Empowerment of women at what cost?
I’ve never really taken much interest in feminist literature, mainly because I have always been very comfortable with my expectations from life and support of my family and friends. I’m very lucky that I have grown up in a liberal society and group of people where being female and having expectations beyond raising a family is just not an issue. Following in both of my Grandmothers’ footsteps; becoming full-time housewife once married, was never on my horizon.
At the CIRN Prato conference last month, Leopoldina Fortunati gave a keynote talk “De-constructing the notion of empowering”. She spoke, in part, of how the choices that women are able to freely make today about personal careers can deeply affect a mother’s relationship with her children. Of course, there is discourse in everything. And I can completely see, now that I am a mother, how aspiring towards a career can actually be a bad thing, when there is no willing partner to be available out of school hours. Because being a parent is a 24-7 job, you are never really off-duty. Even during school hours, there has to be an action plan for illness, or closure. Certainly wrap-around childcare is top of the list of priorities, and to pay for this service privately isn’t always economically viable.
As a student, the role of child carer falls to me, as with many mothers. Certainly the overwhelming majority of parents at school pick-up time are women. And I have even changed my mode of study to part-time for Thomas’ last year before starting school so that I can spend more time with him.
The problem comes when I want to travel. We live in North Yorkshire, in the countryside, there isn’t much in the way of f2f digital and social media academic research debate going on nearby. So I invariably need to travel far to get to conferences and seminars, and therefore eat into wrap-around childcare times. The upshot is I don’t go away too often, it’s too complicated to arrange. The onus is always on me to ensure that my absences are thoroughly planned projects.
And then there’s the guilt. Wondering what might go wrong, or not being there for a cuddle at the crucial moment. The effect of an absence does not stop at the moment of return either; I was away for 5 nights at the beginning of November in Prato and Thomas has only just started sleeping through the night again 3 nights ago.
I mentioned this deconstruction of empowerment from a mother’s perspective briefly on facebook after Prato, and had some interesting and lovely replies. I absolutely believe that my children will benefit in the long-run from having a mother who enjoys working and wants to engage with family life in a different way. But the frustration of feeling inadequate in both camps is tearing me apart, particularly as I start to feel some resentment that it is always difficult for me to go away.
On a happier note, I really love this photo. I decided not to work last Saturday afternoon, despite another paper being overdue. We went and chose a real tree this year for the first time in ages. James and I decorated it together. It was a great way to spend half an hour doing something together. Thomas was of course sitting on the floor breaking as many decorations as he could….. but that’s 3 year olds for you.